An Empirical Cross-linguistic Study of Directives: A Semiotic Approach to the Sentence Forms Chosen by British, Danish and Russian Speakers in Native and ELF Contexts

Olga Rykov Ibsen

    Research output: Book/ReportPhD thesis

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    According to Durst-Andersen’s theory of communicative supertypes all languages can roughly be described as belonging to one of the following supertypes: (1) reality-oriented languages such as Russian and Hindi that speak of reality through the situation being common to the speaker and the hearer; (2) speaker-oriented languages such as Spanish and Japanese that speak of reality through the speaker’s experience of the situation; and finally (3) hearer-oriented languages such as Danish and English that speak of reality through the hearer’s experience of it. Using the above-mentioned approach, this dissertation investigates the following hypotheses: (I) native speakers of British English prefer indirect requesting strategies; (II) Danes and Russians favour direct requesting strategies in their mother tongue; (III) Danes and Russians transfer direct requesting strategies from their mother tongue to English; (IV) British, Danish, and Russian speakers prefer interrogative sentence structures with the situations where the speaker and hearer do not ‘share the same world’. Cross-cultural data consisting of the Trolley (Permission), the Window (Prohibition), and the Library (Impossibility) situations has been collected through role play from Danish, Russian, and English speakers (control group) at Carlsberg, and consists of both English Lingua Franca Data and Mother Tongue Data. The analysis of these three situations partially provided support for hypothesis I with the native speakers of English and II with the Russians though not with the Danes. By construing requests in terms of a ‘problem-solving’ activity, I found that almost half of the British English speakers ‘solved the problem’ straightaway by using the imperative sentence structure in the Trolley situation, e.g. Put your luggage on the trolley! Yet, among the three groups, the British English speakers were the only group who employed interrogatives most often. Both the Russian and Danish speakers preferred to solve the problem by offering their ‘best bid for a solution of a problem’ in the form of the declarative sentence structure in English, like.g. You can put your luggage on the trolley, whereas they preferred other ways of solving the problem in their native languages: the Russian mother tongue speakers overwhelmingly solved the problem on the spot with the help of the imperative form as in Stav’te svoi vešči na moju teležku! for ‘Put (IPFV) your belongings on my trolley!’, and the Danish mother tongue speakers mostly chose to solve the problem by ‘stating’ it, which is done with the hlp of the interrogative sentence structure, like Skal jeg ikke lige smide den med på min vogn ? for ‘Don’t you want me to throw it on my trolley?’. Hypothesis III was also partially confirmed with the Russians, who appeared to transfer the imperative sentence structure from Russian to Russian English in the Trolley and the Library situations. In addition, due to the original view on directives as trichotomous entities, it was possible to discover covert influence of Russian aspect and transfer of the imperative mood in Russian to Russian English. The analysis did not reveal any direct transfers of syntactic structures from Danish to Danish English. Finally, hypothesis IV was completely confirmed since the British, Danish, and Russian respondents largely preferred the interrogative sentence form with the Library situation. Even though the present study has analysed only a small sample, the findings for direct and subtle transfers from a mother tongue to English as a Lingua Franca can prove instrumental in improving global communication, say, in the form of developing teaching material for cross-cultural business organisations that use English as medium of communication.
    Original languageEnglish
    Place of PublicationFrederiksberg
    PublisherCopenhagen Business School [Phd]
    Number of pages358
    ISBN (Print)9788793483163
    ISBN (Electronic)9788793483170
    Publication statusPublished - 2016
    SeriesPhD series

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